NGOs have warned that the high-profile acquittal of the former bouncer accused of causing the death of a Sudanese man in Paceville should not detract from the urgent need to tackle racism.
It will get worse for us now – this verdict has given them permission to kill us without consequences
Nearly three years after Suleiman Abubakar died from head injuries following an altercation at Footloose bar, Duncan Deguara walked free on Friday after jurors decided he was not responsible for the death.
Mr Deguara’s defence team had portrayed the deceased as a drunken, violent trouble-maker.
“The African community is angry but afraid,” said Shami Taha Mohammed from the Migrants’ Network for Equality, which organised a vigil last June to commemorate Mr Abubakar’s death.
“It will get worse for us now – this verdict has given them permission to kills us without consequences.”
The death of Mr Abubakar in June 2009 had caused a public outcry, with many citing it as an example of Paceville’s unofficial colour bar that was symptomatic of racist sentiments in wider society.
Mr Deguara had insisted the deceased was a well-known trouble-maker who had tried to hit him with a bottle on the night in question after being refused entry several times for being drunk.
Two French men who had gone to Footloose with Mr Abubakar and described him as ‘happy’ (tipsy) had testified that Mr Deguara had punched the deceased in the face, causing him to hit his head on the pavement.
However, Mr Deguara maintained throughout the trial that he had merely pushed the deceased, while a police officer testified that Mr Abubakar told him at the scene – in what must have been some of his final words – that he had been punched.
According to Mr Mohammed, black people are regularly refused entry to Paceville bars by security guards who tell them they are drunk or have fake ID – even if they have not drunk anything and are carrying Malta government ID.
“If we protest, we are accused of being violent and risk beatings from bouncers and arrest by the police,” he said.
Mr Mohammed cited the example of Zakaria Adam Al Noor, a young Sudanese man who spoke to The Sunday Times in 2010 after being prevented from entering two clubs despite security staff allowing his white friends to enter.
Police had told The Sunday Times that bouncers had prevented him entering because he was drunk; this was met with incredulity by Mr Al Noor and his Maltese friends who insisted that he never drank alcohol.
Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus said, “Our members have witnessed first-hand how many clubs in Paceville refuse entry to Africans and the aggressive behaviour of many bouncers towards them.”
He said it was “ridiculous” that Mr Deguara’s trial was “characterised by witnesses for the defence” with links to the nightlife industry, including a well-known Paceville bar owner.
Other main witnesses were a Footloose dancer, a St Julian’s bar owner and his friend, all of whom testified that they knew the accused.
Alternattiva Demokratika general secretary Ralph Cassar said he found it “strange to say the least” that a person could end up with multiple fractures to his skull leading to death, and nobody is found guilty even of assault.
For Integra Foundation’s Maria Pisani, it is time to ask some uncomfortable questions about how the criminal justice system and society at large treats black people. “As I followed the case last week, I started to question whether Suleiman was the victim or the accused,” she said.
Ms Pisani also expressed her sadness that while the accused could tap into a network of family and friends for support, the deceased – as a migrant from a marginalised community – seemed to have no one speaking up publically for his reputation.
“That is one of the tragedies of forced migration. In death, the victim was alone. We should not forget this man has family and friends, and they will not feel justice has been done.”
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